Twenty years ago, the General Assembly noted with deep concern the negative economic and social implications related to organized criminal activities. Member States recognized the urgent need to strengthen cooperation to prevent and combat such crimes more effectively at the national, regional and international levels. More importantly, the international community seemed determined to deny safe havens to those who engage in transnational organized crime by providing a framework for criminalizing and prosecuting these crimes wherever they occur, including by cooperating more effectively at the international level.
Hence, on 15 November 2000, the General Assembly by means of resolution 55/22 adopted the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) as primary international instrument to promote cooperation to prevent and combat transnational organized crime more effectively.
The UNTOC was supplemented by three Protocols which aim to prevent and counter specific manifestations of organized crime, namely the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (the Trafficking in Persons Protocol); the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (the Smuggling of Migrants Protocol); and the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition (the Firearms Protocol).
The UNTOC opened for signature by Member States on 12 December 2000 at a High-level Political Conference convened in Palermo, Italy, and remained open until 12 December 2002. The Convention subsequently entered into force on 29 September 2003, while the Trafficking in Persons Protocol and Smuggling of Migrants Protocol entered into force on 25 December 2003 and 28 January 2004 respectively. As the most recent of the three Protocols, the Firearms Protocol entered into force on 3 July 2005.
Countries must become State Parties to the Convention itself before they can become parties to any of the three Protocols, but with 190 State Parties at present, the UNTOC is one of the most widely ratified United Nations treaties with almost universal adherence.
In Eastern Africa, Member States have achieved almost universal adherence to the UNTOC. In this regard, Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda are all State Parties to the Convention. Only Somalia and South Sudan are still to accede to the UNTOC.
Most of these Member States, apart from Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda, are also State Parties to the Trafficking in Persons Protocol, while Comoros, Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda still need to become State Parties to the Smuggling of Migrants Protocol. As for the Firearms Protocol, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Seychelles, Somalia and South Sudan are yet to become State Parties to the latter Protocol.
The Convention and its Protocols represent a major step forward in the fight against transnational organized crime. However, the effectiveness of these international instruments depends on the extent of its ratification and implementation by States Parties. Becoming a State Party signifies the recognition by Member States of the serious threats posed by organized crime, as well as the need to enhance international cooperation in criminal matters to prevent and counter these crimes.
Member States that ratify these instruments commit themselves to take a series of measures against transnational organized crime, including the creation of domestic criminal offenses (including participation in an organized criminal group, money laundering, corruption and obstruction of justice), the adoption of new and sweeping frameworks for extradition, mutual legal assistance and law enforcement cooperation, and the promotion of training and technical assistance for building or upgrading the necessary capacity of national authorities.
Despite the number of State Parties, including in Eastern Africa, the Convention and Protocols continue to be underutilized instruments, as their effective implementation – especially in relation to international cooperation in criminal matters – remains a challenge for many States Parties.
In Eastern Africa, UNODC through its regional Countering Transnational Organized Crime and Illicit Trafficking Programme has been assisting Member States to ratify, or accede to, and implement the Convention and Protocols through development of legislation, capacity building and enhancing international cooperation in criminal matters.
Most recently, Comoros became the 178th State Party to the Trafficking in Persons Protocol with the assistance of UNODC, while almost every Member State in the region has been receiving technical capacity building om investigating and prosecuting organized crime, including Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants.
UNODC is currently supporting Somalia to ratify the UNTOC and is working with Comoros on acceded to the Smuggling of Migrants Protocols. In addition, UNODC is engaging with all Member States in the region still to ratify or accede the Trafficking in Persons Protocol, Smuggling of Migrants Protocol and Firearms Protocol as ultimately, these instruments are only as strong as their State Parties.